Take Back the Night ’11 Rally and March Tonight

I only passed the pre-Take Back the Night march activities, at the gateway to the Oval.  A cold rain was falling, and I was slogging through the wet with only one destination in mind: Thompson Library.  Many brave souls were organizing for the annual march to condemn violence and sexual assault against women, and they would not be deterred by the horrible weather and the nonexistent visibility.

Like them, I want to “take back the night.”  As a middle-aged male, I want the night–and the streets–to be as safe for me as women want them to be for them.  I have always been a nocturnal person, and night was a passion I began to indulge full-time as a teenager, from sneaking out after midnight to wander the deserted streets of Marietta, to becoming a connoisseur of B movies because of watching old movies until dawn, and trying to find third-shift jobs when it was time for me to enter the workforce.

I was totally clueless about the negative connotations night carried.  Born-again Christians’ favorite pastime is trying to one-better one another with stories of how horrible they were pre-salvation, and calling oneself a “creature of the night” was always a way to enhance your secular rottenness bona fides.  In high school, I bought a frayed Grove Press paperback of John Rechy’s novel City of Night, attracted to the title.  I lay propped up in bed until dawn reading his fascinating and tragic first-person novel of a lonely young man seeking love and acceptance while working as a male prostitute.

The radio was pleasant company for my on those late nights when I had to remain indoors.  Despite my antipathy toward organized religion at the time, especially toward mass media religious expression, I faithfully listened to a program at 4:30 a.m. every Sunday morning, Nightsounds, hosted by the late Bill Pearce.  Again, it was the title that drew me to listen, and soon I would lie in bed, lights off, listening to Pearce’s gentle voice and thoughts.  He and I weren’t on the same page theologically, and I didn’t pay close attention to the music he presented, but it was always a half hour well spent.

To me, nighttime was almost my own personal playground.  During my years in the Unitarian Universalist youth groups, both at Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) and Ohio-Meadville District youth conferences, I was one of the people who stayed up almost until dawn, reading, talking, or writing.  (The irony is that through most of high school I was such a Mormon about caffeine, yet I usually outlasted the people who never let their coffee mugs get more than half empty.)

Now that I’m older, I am more aware of the dangers of the nighttime, although I have never been mugged, pickpocketed, or assaulted.  I would love to take this laptop with me when I leave the house in the evening, so I can write in a café or fast-food place.  I don’t because I doubt I would be safe in my neighborhood carrying a computer after dark.  I am not wild about doing it during the daytime, but I do it anyway.  Once the sun goes down, I feel apprehensive to hear footsteps behind me.  I would be a waste of time for a mugger, since I’m usually close to broke, and my watch is a $20 off-brand digital from Target.  (In my younger days, I was less apprehensive about walking around at night, even when I would cash my paycheck and carry two weeks’ worth of wages around in my wallet.)

And I hope taking back the night means putting assumed guilt to rest.  A faithful reader of this blog will notice that I write about nocturnal events, past and present, quite a bit.  I never realized that being an habitué of a city after dark meant I was inherently a rapist.  Nocturnal profiling is as wrong as racial profiling.

I never knew such a thing existed until I was living in Athens, Ohio.  I was the assistant manager of a photocopy and typing service in the back of The Oasis, and early one morning a graduate student had dropped off a project that was at least 150 pages long, and had to be in her professor’s hands at 9 a.m. the following morning.

So I spent the entire day wedded to the keyboard of the Apple Macintosh Plus, gulping endless cups of fountain Diet Pepsi and chomping down the occasional cheeseburger or candy bars, getting out of my chair only for trips to the bathroom.  It was past 2:45 a.m. when the pages began coming out of the laser printer, and I went over each line to make sure it was typographically accurate.

I was staggering when I left The Oasis, just about 3:15.  I lived less than a half mile away, but the distance seemed insurmountable.  For a moment, I considered sneaking to the Church of the Good Shepherd, the Episcopal church next door to The Oasis, and sleeping on its porch until someone booted me out.

As I was nearing my house, I suddenly realized there was a young woman in front of me on the sidewalk.  How did I know this?  I learned of her existence only when she wheeled around and shrieked at me, “Why are you following me?”

Uhh… I live in this direction.  I was so exhausted at that point I was barely aware of my surroundings, and was on a primitive GPS to get myself home.  The most erotic thing I was envisioning was collapsing into bed and falling straight into dreamland.  Even if this woman had taken off all her clothes, jumped into my arms, and said, “Ravage me!”, I would not have been able to respond, emotionally or physically.

Yet since I was male and walking around in the predawn hours, ergo, my only purpose was sexual assault.

No woman asks for rape.  To say that she “asked for it” because of wearing a miniskirt and a top that exposes plentiful cleavage is bullshit.

At the same time, no man asked to be pre-identified as a rapist merely because he enjoys walking the streets at night.

The night belongs to everyone.

Tragedy Brings Me Back to Athens

Art Gish devoted his life to peacemaking, economic justice, civil rights, reconciliation, and love.  These are ideas that have never sold well.  If you start shooting off your mouth about them around the wrong people, you’re likely to find yourself nailed up on two pieces of wood at the top of a hill.

This afternoon, friends came from all over to honor his life and mourn his death.  The First United Methodist Church on College St. in Athens was standing-room-only.  Art, who had faced down Israeli tanks in Hebron armed with nothing more than the cry of “Baruch Ha’Shem Adonai!”, and who protested in front of Army recruiting stations, died on his own land, crushed by a tractor, aged 70.
I rode down from Columbus this morning with Phil and Julie, a couple who attend Columbus Mennonite Church.  I had never met them before; we connected through Central Ohioans for Peace’s message board.  I was happy to learn that, after Art’s memorial service, they were headed to a wedding and reception in The Plains, so I would have time to explore the city where I had spent much of the 1980s, both as a high school student hitchhiking up on weekends from Marietta, to a student, and later as a townie.
I first heard the name Art Gish in the fall of 1981.  A Quaker farmer in New Marshfield asked me if I wanted to help select a peace candidate to run against the incumbent Congressman, Rep. Clarence Miller (R-Lancaster).  I was realistic enough to know that Miller, who had represented the 10th Congressional District of Ohio since 1967, would be handily re-elected, so the sacrificial lamb candidate we chose had almost no chance of winning.

One chilly November night, I hitchhiked to Athens and went to a long meeting at the home of a chemistry professor.  Two names seemed to carry the day: Chuck Overby, professor of industrial and systems engineering at O.U., and Art Gish.  Chuck Overby I knew slightly through the Unitarian Fellowship, but Art Gish was a totally foreign name to me.

At the next meeting, both men spoke to us about their vision for peace and the prospect of employment for the 10th District (At that time, Ohio was 49th in employment, trailed only by Michigan).  After both men spoke, we sent them into another room and closed the door while we debated.  After much debate, we decided that Chuck Overby would be the more viable candidate.  The two men emerged from the room each convinced the other would be a stellar candidate.  (It was a moot point; Chuck was defeated in the Democratic primary the following June, and John Buchanan went on to lose to Clarence Miller by almost 2:1.  Miller kept his seat until retiring in 1993.)

Many stories and anecdotes came from the pulpit of the church in Athens.  We heard from his family (one of his sons is part of a Bruderhof community (literally “place of brothers”), a sect of Anabaptists who live communally based on the model of the early Christian church).  I heard stories about Art that took place in seminary, Israel, Gaza, and the Athens Farmers’ Market.  People read from some of his books, including Beyond the Rat Race, Hebron Journal: Stories of Non-Violent Peacemaking, and At-Tuwani Journal: Hope and Non-Violent Action in a Palestinian Village.  Prayers in English, Arabic, and Hebrew went up in his name.  He habituated both the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life and the Islamic Center of Athens, and always tried to converse with foreign students in their native languages.

After the service (the Calliope Feminist Choir sung us on our way), I explored Athens thoroughly for the first time in many years.  I tried not to dwell on what had stood at a particular location, although I eagerly sought the familiar.  Baker Center, the student center, is in bigger and more majestic quarters at the end of Court St.  Many businesses I remember from my days there no longer remain, although many of the bars are the same, albeit with different motifs.  Little Professor Book Store is still chugging along–I bought a pocket diary on sale there for $.25.  The Saturday streets were quite busy for a summer afternoon, as this was the weekend for Bobcat Student Orientation.

I took several pictures of Court Street from various angles, the street where I spent much of my time–way too much.

Near the corner of N. Court and W. State Sts.,
where Pawpurr’s, The Pub, and The Junction
still stand.

College Green.  I actually choked up a little
when the bells atop Manasseh Cutler Hall struck
at 7 p.m.

Looking north on Court St.  The First Presbyterian
Church is on the northeast corner.

Phil and Julie left the wedding and reception in The Plains around 8:30, and we headed north.  I was able to stop by Oak St. and have an animated and informative, but all too brief, visit with Bob Whealey, who turned 80 this spring.  He is a retired history professor at Ohio University, who also made a quixotic run against Clarence Miller (this time in 1972, and he fared as well as George McGovern did that year!).  I earned extra cash typing his manuscripts, notes, and projects during my years in Athens, and he even mentioned my name as one of his “patient typists through the years” in the Foreword of his book Hitler and Spain: The Nazi Role in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.  It was like old times, sitting in the living room of his house, surrounded by books, high stacks of papers and files, the familiar archive and musty paper smell I knew so well when I visited there quite often.
I was too saddened by the downfall of The Oasis to photograph it.  This was a student hangout and grill located on University Terrace, next to the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Many Middle Eastern students habituated the place, because of its proximity to the math and science buildings, so it had the derisive nickname “the Arab embassy.”  I worked there in 1988 and 1989, my last months in Athens, as a typist and assistant manager at the small copy shop in the back.  The pay was livable for a childless bachelor, and I enjoyed the long conversations with my manager and with the owner of The Oasis, John Farley.
John died in 2002, aged 77, and the University bought The Oasis from his estate and ran it as a grill and snack shop, but in November 2006, The Oasis closed its doors for good, and it appears to have sat vacant ever since.  The only sign of life is the Chase Bank ATM machine.  An O.U. grad writing in this 2006 Athens News column, wrote about the post-Farley life of The Oasis.
I was too wound up from the events of the day to head home, so I went to the Awarehouse (the warehouse/party site behind Third Hand Bicycle Co-op and Sporeprint Infoshop on E. 5th Ave.) and saw the  New York-based group Menya perform at the Hootenanny for Hellraisers.  I was happy to reconnect with friends I had met at the housewarming the previous week, and also a friend I had met at a Sporeprint screening of Fowl Play last Wednesday evening.
I would have covered more terrain in Athens had it not been for this damn orthopedic boot on my foot.  My approaching footsteps resembled Frankenstein’s, I’m sure.  I probably walked more than I should have, but I had taken two Darvocet (I usually take one), which kept the pain at bay.  Without a good walk, I’m like a heroin addict his second day off the needle.  After the party at the Awarehouse ended, I probably would have risked a walk home, but I had my laptop in an over-the-shoulder bag, and it would be tempting fate to walk through the neighborhood around Weinland Park at that hour anyway, laptop or no laptop.
I will leave you with the image of Art Gish that is probably the most famous.  I am surprised it didn’t win the photographer a Pulitzer Prize.  Art stands in front of an Israeli tank en route to bulldozing a Palestinian market in Hebron.